When the world is fighting with coronavirus, the major trouble is being faced by migrant workers in India who are traveling back to their home states, or their belongings were sprayed with a disinfectant, apparently to sanitize them. Workers were sprayed in Bareilly of Uttar Pradesh, and belongings of workers in Delhi.
The chemical in the spray was a sodium hypochlorite solution. Sodium hypochlorite is commonly used as a bleaching agent, and also to sanitize swimming pools.
This chemical is also being used in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Punjab, for disinfecting buildings and solid surfaces in a bid to wash away any presence of novel coronavirus.
Are the chemicals safe?
As a common bleaching agent, sodium hypochlorite is used for a variety of cleaning and disinfecting purposes. It releases chlorine, which is a disinfectant. The concentration of the chemical in the solution varies according to the purpose it is meant for. Large quantities of chlorine can be harmful. A normal household bleach usually is a 2-10% sodium hypochlorite solution. At a much lower 0.25-0.5%, this chemical is used to treat skin wounds like cuts or scrapes. An even weaker solution (0.05%) is sometimes used as a handwash.
In Delhi, officials have said a 1% sodium hypochlorite solution was used in the spray applied on migrant workers’ belongings. The concentration in other places, including those used on buildings or vehicles, is not very clear.
A 1% solution can cause damage to the skin of anyone who comes in contact with it. If it gets inside the body, it can cause serious harm to the lungs. Sodium hypochlorite is corrosive, and is meant largely to clean hard surfaces. It is not recommended to be used on human beings, certainly not as a spray or shower. Even a 0.05% solution could be very harmful to the eyes.
Can Sodium Hypochlorite help get rid of the novel coronavirus?
The World Health Organization, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend homemade bleach solutions of about 2-10% concentration to clean hard surfaces to clear them of any presence of the novel coronavirus. A Michigan State University tutorial says that cleaning hard surfaces with this solution can disinfect them not just from novel coronavirus but also “help prevent flu, food born illnesses, and more”. However, it adds: “Always use bleach in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves when handling the product or solution.”